Plato finds democracy next to tyranny. Why does he think so low of democracy? Explain your position towards his criticism. Can his argumentation be applied to contemporary democracies?
This essay seeks to address the above questions. First it explains Plato’s concept of democracy, which shapes his attitude towards this form of government. Then it discusses my position towards Plato’s criticism of democracy, provides a definition of contemporary democracy, and finally shows how Plato’s argumentation can be applied to present day democracies.
Plato’s idea of democracy which was conceptualized in around 300 B.C is quite different from the present day understanding of democracy. According to Plato, democracy originates “when the poor win, kill or exile their opponents, and give the rest equal civil rights and opportunities of office, appointment to office being as rule by lot” (Plato, p. 292). In another word, for Plato only philosopher kings were entitled to rule a society and apart from them ordinary people were perceived as barbaric and not worthy of governing. Plato’s perception of democracy was shaped by his aristocratic background. For him only the elite which were described as “gold” had the right to rule the regular people who according to Plato were destined to be ruled. In Plato’s word elite is a person who born with capacity and ability of being “gold”. He doesn’t want the people to take power and hold office.
Plato believed that anyone who did not have exceptional gifts could not grow into a good man unless he was brought up from childhood in a good environment and trained in good habits. Plato asserts that “ democracy with a complicated gesture sweeps all this away” (Plato, p.294) and doesn’t mind what the habits, and background of its politician are; provided they profess themselves the people’s friends, they are duly praised.
The main reasons why Plato doesn’t want people to be in power are the following: first, he says that “people are free, there is liberty and freedom of speech plenty, and every individual is free to do as he likes” (Plato, p 295). Therefore, people will abuse ultimate freedom and this will lead the state to chaos and instability. Plato refers to democracy as “an agreeable anarchic form of society” (Plato, p. 294) with lots of variety, which considers all people as equal, whether they are equal or not. In an anarchic society there is no protection of people’s basic rights and complete chaos. In such a society without law and order, violence would be rampant and inevitably lead to oppression and tyranny.
Second, in Plato’s point of view, a democratic society is a place for “constitution hunting” where a multitude of constitutions based on individuals’ interests are available. Plato says “it’s a shop in which one finds plenty of models to show” (Plato, p. 293). In Plato’s word, model means constitutions mean the laws that people created by themselves and using that according to their own interests. He warns against leaving people with their own interests. Therefore, we can conclude that according to Plato finally it leads to anarchy and tyranny in a state. In an anarchic society there is no law, and the powerful person is the leader. He has his own law and he accommodates it on people. He does “what pleases him best”, and becomes a tyrant. In order to prevent a society from becoming anarchy, we should have regulation on that society.
I think there is need for regulation within the rule of law in a democratic society, but Plato defines it differently. In my opinion, every citizen of a state has equal rights and responsibilities toward his country similar to the elite (philosopher king) part of society. In contemporary democracy, unlike Plato’s time, the whole power belongs to people. However, Plato wants the state to be ruled only by the “philosopher king” therefore denying the rights of other citizens of the state; this is not practical in contemporary democracy.